Hi Hannah, how would you describe Croft & Clay?
We call ourselves a little shop of lovely things! We’re a small, sister-run store nestled in the Kent countryside, just outside Canterbury, and we specialise in homeware, self-care, lifestyle and pet goodies. We’ve curated our collection based on brands we personally love and are excited to talk to our customers about. Our ethos is to bring a little bit of joy to the everyday – we want people to discover something they weren’t expecting to find in the countryside. We opened in July 2021 so we’re just over one year old!
What inspired the idea of setting up your business?
We grew up in the local area, but both of us spent the majority of our twenties living in London. Whilst we were there, we both loved visiting all of the incredible independent shops that London has to offer. When we moved back to rural Kent in 2020, we both really missed the independent shopping experience, and we were determined to bring it to the countryside (because why should the towns and cities have all the fun?!). We wanted to open a shop that brought independent brands with a powerful ethos and a fresh outlook to our countryside home – somewhere that you could shop to get a personal experience, and find something that little bit different that you can’t find anywhere else.
From there, we were really focused on finding the right location for our store. This was crucial to us because we really wanted to have our base in the countryside – we didn’t want to settle for a location in a nearby town that wouldn’t serve the same community. We were absolutely thrilled to find our location – it’s an old tractor shed on a converted farm alongside other incredible small businesses such as a tearoom, chef, bakery, and farm shop. It’s in amongst fields that are usually home to cows and sheep, and a very impressive vineyard! Our customers often comment on the incredible view from our window – we have to admit it’s not a bad ‘office’!
What did you do before setting up your business?
Before setting up Croft & Clay, I spent seven years working as a lawyer in London. It was an incredible career but, as you can imagine, didn’t leave much room for creativity. As it was pretty demanding hours-wise, it also meant I didn’t have much say in what my days or weeks looked like, and didn’t have much control over my working life – the very opposite of running your own business! After moving back to Kent during the first lockdown in 2020, I knew that I wanted to change my lifestyle and pursue something that I was truly passionate about.
My sister Abi still works as a consultant five days a week as well as juggling Croft & Clay – I don’t know how she does it!
How would you describe your style, and where do you find creative inspiration?
We find lots of inspiration from our countryside surroundings – we love things that are beautiful, tactile and have that feeling of something created with love. We love ceramics that are a little bit wonky, materials that are earthy, and layered textures that will transform an otherwise empty space. Purposeful, classic design is also really important to us – we love pieces that are truly timeless and will last through all four seasons.
Tell us about your curation – how do you source items?
It was really important to us that we curated a collection that reflected our purpose and that people were excited by when they came through our doors. We started with brands that we already used and loved, because they were the ones we were most passionate about, and it grew from there to find other exciting makers up and down the country that were creating something original.
In terms of sourcing new items, we still love stocking brands that we’ve personally tried and tested and think would be a perfect fit for Croft & Clay. As an example, my sister Abi bought me a Blasta Henriet Eye Pillow for Christmas – think a hug for your eyes after a long day! I loved using it so much that we got in touch with the makers and added it to our self-care range in January!
How did you approach the design of your space?
We have a very small store, so our design had to be a clever blend of shelf space and storage space. It needed to be beautiful whilst also serving a purpose. We also wanted the space to reflect its working roots as a tractor shed whilst also reflecting our vision of a serene, polished shopping environment that you might not expect to find in the middle of the countryside. So we were asking quite a lot of the space!
We approached it by putting together a mood board to capture how we wanted the space to feel – so lots of neutral stone colours, soft pastels, rustic cottons, plywoods and OSB board. Then we started planning how we could maximise storage space whilst still having enough display space for our products – and this process involved lots of torn up sketches until we found the right mix! We were incredibly lucky to have very talented family and friends that lent their woodwork and decorating skills to help us fit out the space – it was a truly family affair!
What’s the ethos behind your business?
Our ethos is to bring a little sprinkle of joy to the everyday – to bring something different to our little corner of the countryside. We love it when customers walk in and say, “Wow, I didn’t expect to find this here!” We wanted to create something that people didn’t expect, and something that people would go home and tell their family and friends about because they’re excited to have discovered something unique that they weren’t expecting to stumble across.
Tell us more about your location and community…
We’re based at Court Lodge Farm in Bishopsbourne, just outside Canterbury in Kent. Bishopsbourne is a very small, quiet village – we would say picture perfect, but we’re biased! Although we’re only a 10–minute drive from nearby Canterbury, it feels very much like the idyllic countryside location, with lots of chickens, sheep, pigs and cows as neighbours. At Court Lodge Farm itself, there’s the most wonderful community of exciting small businesses that we feel so privileged to be a part of – it really feels like a little ‘hub’ in the countryside where people can come for delicious food, exciting design and even dog grooming and a hairdresser!
Is the online community important to your work?
It’s hugely important – we want to bring our little shop of lovely things to you whether you’re in the city, countryside, or by the coast. Nothing makes us happier than receiving orders from all over the country – from the Isle of Wight to the Highlands! Our Instagram community is also so important – we love to see how customers have styled their Croft & Clay goodies and are always so excited to share them as inspiration for our other lovely customers.
Working as an independent store owner – what are the joys, and what are the challenges?
There’s nothing that brings us more joy than chatting to a customer that really understands our vision and is genuinely excited to discover the products we’re stocking. It’s an amazing feeling to share your story and for people to react so positively and validate all the reasons that you wanted to open the shop in the first place. I also love a good chat in general (anything from interiors, to dogs, to the weather!) – so it’s been a pleasure to meet and get to know so many of our customers in the year since we opened.
The biggest challenge is being every department at once. You have to have the creative vision, deal with customers, be the accountant, the lawyer and HR – all whilst staying on top of your daily admin tasks like checking you have enough stationery! Sometimes it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day, but I’ve found it’s important to just prioritise and go through your list one item at a time.
How do you approach marketing and PR?
As a relatively new business, we’ve tried a few different marketing and PR strategies, with a mix of online, social media, and print advertising on a national and more local scale. One of our best marketing tools is still word of mouth – we’ve been really lucky to have so many customers through the doors that have been told “you need to visit this new shop I found!” by friends and family.
Favourite makers or products that you sell?
One of our favourite product ranges is our recycled glassware – it combines a classic aesthetic with purposeful design. The range is designed by a couple in the UK, who visited us to hand deliver our first order, which was a lovely personal touch, and is made from recycled glass in a traditional factory in the Atlas Mountains. As the glass is recycled, each piece has truly unique colouring and surface markings. which makes each one so special.
Another personal favourite is our Dook salt soaps – they honestly turn the humble everyday shower into the full spa experience. The soaps are hand-poured in small batches using organic ingredients and the best essential oils by the lovely Helen in Edinburgh. The gentle exfoliation of Himalayan sea salt married with Dook’s naturally powerful aromas create a truly special soap. They’re definitely one of the best smelling products in-store! We also admire Dook’s dedication to sustainability – their packaging is made from recycled coffee cups, and they make efforts to reduce plastic usage in production and source ingredients from sustainable sources.
What have been your business highlights so far?
One has been opening the doors to Croft & Clay for the first time. It was such a nerve-wracking experience to feel like so much hard work, brainstorming, planning, and re-planning had all culminated in the simple action of opening the doors and saying “We’re open”. But to have the wonderful reaction we did from our community was so validating and inspires us to develop the business to continue to surprise people.
What does your ideal day off look like?
Because I work weekends in-store, my days off are during the week when everyone else is working! So, my ideal day off is usually hanging out with my dog Buster – my 13 year old chocolate Labradoodle. He’s the best partner to have a lazy day with! We’d probably spend the day going for a slow walk in the sunshine or heading down to the coast for a dip in the sea!
Any good advice for aspiring store owners?
Stay true to your vision – always remember why you opened and the community you’re aiming to serve. People are drawn to authenticity and when you love what you do – it shows!